Why Not Eat Crayons?
Updated: Mar 25
“My only regret is that I have but one LIKE to give to that pic of your cat.”
—Nathan Hale, 2020
This century of ours, the 21st, is a Narcissist's dream! More on this in a moment. I remember the bygone days of the 20th century. A time when people decried the bestseller, the blockbuster movie, the soap opera, the vapid celebrity. After all, wasn't this a shameless pandering to the LCD, the Lowest Common Denominator? We're better than this! Echoes of The Renaissance and The Enlightenment still resounded! Of explorers, rebels, and pioneers! Of great men and women and their achievements. And talk about struggles! The history of America is one of struggles surmounted, with the 20th century its zenith. Pandemics, two World Wars, a Great Depression, and a Cold War that threatened our very existence. But somehow we overcame them all through sheer tenacity, courage, and intellect. We were forced by circumstance to find the best in ourselves, because anything less and we wouldn't be here, and all that we fought for, for centuries, would be lost. The 20th century was about overcoming adversity, making something of yourself, and accomplishing great things. And this included the Arts and Culture. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" was published in the early 1970s, it was a worldwide event. It represented the best in us as we confronted the worst. It was a triumph of intelligence over virulent conformity, of the indomitable human spirit in the face of utter negation. And a celebration of the strength to be found when a person's character is equal to the prodigious challenges set before them.
But a curious human trait is that once the struggle is over, we have this desire to relax. To kick back, have a beer, turn on the TV, and give our brains a rest. It's funny, that in the 20th century, they used to call the TV the “boob tube”. Yet today on YouTube is a video promoted by YouTube itself, of a young woman of nineteen or so eating crayons. Yes, you heard right. It's gotten over a million views. The first part of the three-minute video is the young woman applying her lip gloss (so she looks good eating crayons?). The second part: she picks up a crayon and purposefully draws something in what looks like a journal. Is she an artist? A self-portrait, perhaps, like a modern-day Van Gogh? The suspense is palpable. Finally, she shows it to us, her audience. It's her YouTube moniker written in crayon, much like a child of four might do. So, no art, but rather, self-promotion. Then the third part, the climax! To crown her achievement she proceeds to eat the crayon live on camera, paper wrapper and all! Questions abound, such as WTF? And yes, historically, children of three or four have on occasion eaten a crayon or two. It never went well. But instead of, well, telling them not to do this, someone decided it was better—for the kids and for society—if there were edible crayons. And voilà! A funny thing about YouTube. Being a private company, they are cognizant of their place in the world and the cultural milieu. And they go out of their way to not offend. So if your video is deemed offensive they will demonetize it. After all, one must not profit from being offensive! But I submit that an adult human being eating crayons should be offensive to the entire world of adult human beings! But nope. One million views and counting. And this brings me to the initial statement, of the 21st century being a Narcissist's dream.
Life in the 21st century is a popularity contest on crack. It's High School on steroids. It's VIEWS and LIKES. FRIENDS, FOLLOWERS, and SUBSCRIBERS! In fact, the mechanism of society itself, through the omnipresence of Social Media, is about quantifying popularity. And for the Narcissist, a Golden Age where their pathology has been normalized and celebrated. Imagine Social Media for a moment without the quantifiers. Each video, stripped of those imprimaturs (no more VIEWS, LIKES, and SUBS), naked before us, to be judged on the actual merit (or lack thereof) of its content. Echoes of Martin Luther King Jr.’s "people being judged by the content of their character." What a concept! It's practically prehistoric! But here in this progressive, modern age we can't leave the house until that post of our breakfast on Facebook or Instagram has garnered a sufficient number of LIKES and affirmations. This is 21st century achievement. Perhaps it's been too easy. Perhaps too much has been done to make it thus. Recall your own time in High School. The jocks and cheerleaders had their moment in the sun. But thankfully, once the rest of us escaped into the world, our merits of substance would be seen and recognized! Sadly, meritocracy iz Day-ud. If Madame Curie were alive today, her YouTube post of her latest scientific breakthrough would get 47 VIEWS and 2 LIKES. Whereas, that crayon-eating lip-gloss chick is an influencer, a star, with a million LIKES to prove it. How can you compete with that?
postscript: Here's Kevin Kunundrum reading the above essay...
(This essay appears in slightly different form in my upcoming book, UTOPIA—short stories, poems, & essays.)